By Jordan W. Charness

Sometimes, people are not what they seem. Sometimes, people are perfectly calm, cool and collected in just about every circumstance, but if you put them behind the wheel of a car, they can change completely. Even the use of a hands-free telephone does not seem to change how people act as drivers.

Peter is one of those guys. Generally speaking, he is a calm individual, and wouldn’t harm a fly. Generally speaking, he will always look at any situation and find the best in it, but put him behind the wheel of a car and things can change in a nanosecond.

It’s kind of funny, really. We can be having this perfectly sane conversation with him on his hands-free device with me sitting calmly in my office discussing some business deal of his, when all of a sudden, he starts screaming and swearing. I used to think that he was screaming and swearing at me or had been developing Tourette’s syndrome. But no: he was just getting upset at a real or imagined slight by another driver in a car ahead of him.

Heaven help the person who cuts him off or changes lanes without warning or use of his signals! Peter will instantly give him a piece of his mind, but at least he is smart enough to keep both hands on the steering wheel. Therefore, his temper tantrums go completely unnoticed by the person that they are directed to. On the other hand everyone in his car and on the other end of a phone line gets to hear it at full volume.

Road rage is certainly nothing new; however, it is evolving somewhat. We used to hear of many cases where drivers would actually pull their cars over and attempt to stop the person who had slighted them with their driving techniques. I even remember a famous court case where, in a fit of road rage, a driver followed another car for over 50 km honking his horn and flashing his lights the whole time. When the other car could go no further, he got out of his car and attempted to beat up the offending driver!

He was arrested, charged and convicted of assault.

But that was an example of an extreme case and it doesn’t seem to happen as often these days. Nowadays, there are anecdotal reports of more people screaming and yelling through the windshield without actually making any contact with their intended victim. These emotional outbursts tend to last only a few seconds and fortunately don’t escalate to anything more dangerous.

Not being a psychologist, I have no idea if this means that people are more or less stressed than they used to be, or as seems more likely, people have just realized that driving these days is just not going to be as smooth as we would like it to be.

One thing is certain: these emotional outbursts can have unintended consequences. Screaming obscenities while talking on the phone does not exactly enhance your reputation with the person that you’re talking to. Or, of course, you could always have happen to you what happened to a friend of mine. She saw her little three year-old son pretending to drive. He looked so cute with his pretend steering wheel and making car engine noises when, suddenly, in the midst of all of that, he started shouting obscenities that she never even thought he knew. When asked why he was doing so he sweetly looked up and said, “Mommy, I’m driving just like you do!”

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